Hicksville will join a trio of teams from Henry County in the high school football playoffs on Friday night. The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced the pairings on Sunday with the top eight teams in each region advancing to the postseason.
The Aces (8-2) qualified seventh in Division V Region 18 and will play at unbeaten Hopewell-Loudon (10-0) on Friday in Bascom in a first-round game with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m.
"The bigger deal to me is seeing how these seniors have developed as fine young men off the field," explained Hicksville coach Lucas Smith, who led the Aces to an unbeaten record in the Green Meadows Conference. "I've been lucky to have them since they were freshmen and getting to see how much they have grown since then has brought me the most joy. A second (big deal) is winning the GMC outright for the first time in 35 years.
"Making the playoffs has just been the icing on the cake. The front of our T-shirts say 'Becoming Uncommon' and I think our kids have bought into that mentality. Success is not common, we don't set goals when we are kids to be 'average' when we get older. I hope they are realizing the kind of mindset it takes to be uncommon."
After losing the first two games of the season the Aces have rattled off eight in a row to reach the postseason.
"We were very disappointed after the Archbold game," Smith said in reference to losing a big lead in the season opener. "We knew that was going to be worth a lot of playoff points and we prepared all summer for that game.
"Coldwater was scheduled to better prepare us for our conference and the playoffs (if we made them). We talked with the kids the morning after Coldwater and asked them if they were ready for their 8-0 run. I think they realized how much we learned from those first two weeks and if we could apply that over the next eight games then we would have a chance."
Two Henry County schools will also be playing in the Region 18 with Liberty Center, the top seed in the region, hosting Carey (8-2) on Friday while Patrick Henry (8-2), the five seed, visits Northwood (9-1) the same evening.
"It's always nice to have a home game," admitted long-time LC mentor Rex Lingruen. "You're already used to everything and it's a lot easier to prepare for."
LC leading tackler Bryan Hefflinger agreed following Friday's win over Archbold to complete a perfect 10-0 regular season for the Tigers.
"It'll mean everything to us," the LC senior inside linebacker said. "Home-field advantage is huge to us."
While Napoleon won't be at home, head coach Tory Strock is just happy his squad gets an opportunity to play in week 11 with the 5-5 Wildcats headed east for a first-round Division III Region 10 playoff game at Clyde (8-2) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
"It's funny how your perspective on things can change," explained Strock. "When you're 8-2 or 9-1 you say how can a 5-5 team get in the playoffs, but I think the system worked. It rewards teams that play a competitive schedule and you've got to beat quality opponents. Being in a Division I and II league paid its rewards. It's very gratifying for us."
The Wildcats, which won their final three games to finish the regular season at .500, are in the playoffs for the sixth time in eight years.
"The kids are on Cloud 9," Strock said. "They bought into what we were selling as coaches. This year is truly a great example of what happens if you believe. Some schools take for granted they're going to get in with eight or nine wins, but for us every week was a playoff game down the stretch. Some teams can crumble with that kind of pressure but our kids thrived on it."
A pair of Western Buckeye League teams will also be in action on Friday with Wapakoneta (9-1) at Franklin (9-1) in a Division II Region 6 contest while Elida (7-3) visits Bellevue (7-3) in a Division III Region 10 game.
In addition, Versailles (8-2), coached by former Fairview mentor Bob Olwin, is at West Liberty-Salem (10-0) in a D-V Region 20 tilt.
Four area teams will be in playoff action on Saturday including O-G (8-2) at Eastwood (10-0) in Division IV Region 14 action starting at 7 p.m. A trio of six-county area squads will participate in Division VI Region 22 play with Edgerton (8-2) hosting McComb, Leipsic (9-1) home to face Arcadia (7-3) and Edon (7-3) traveling to Tiffin Calvert (8-2).
One more WBL team will be playing on Saturday with top-ranked Kenton (10-0) home to meet Wellington (7-3) in a Division IV Region 14 game.
Two teams from the Northern Lakes League qualified in Division I with Anthony Wayne (8-2) visiting Toledo Whitmer (10-0) and Sylvania Southview (9-1) playing host to Canton McKinley (8-2). Also, Gahanna-Lincoln (8-2), coached by former Napoleon boss John Snoad, is in the playoffs in Division I Region 3 action at Pickerington Central (7-2).
Sports writers Jason Stein and Lynn Groll contributed to this story.